Portugal is an accidental country. It is also a poor country, it has always been but, somehow, it has always been a proud country. By and large the Portuguese are also down-to-earth. Portugal had its golden age. It was built on trade and exploration, on diplomacy and naval prowess. After all, for centuries Portugal governed the only open port in China open to European traders. Portuguese was, for many years, the language of trade in Asia. Yet, Portugal’s grasp was weak and Dutch assaults undermined this first great European empire. It wasn’t personal; of course, Portugal was a weaker proxy to attack the Spanish crown. The Dutch would not provoke an open conflict with Spain. They would lose that and they knew it. As Portugal declined, they maintained some semblance of economic functionality by levying taxes on goods from Brazil destined for Britain’s growing industries. Portugal was weak and poor, but it had an empire to the bitter end and its legacy was maintained.
In contrast, Portugal’s violent, egotistical neighbour has a long history of parasitism. Portugal built its golden age on trade, Spain on the blood of the Americas. Spain is little wealthier than Portugal, merely much larger. Spain’s glory was paid for by gold and silver from the Americas. Initially, the gold of the Inca and Aztec empires paid for their first post-liberation flourishing. After the Tears of the Sun started to dwindle, Spain had a fortunate break. The mountains of Bolivia and parts of Mexico are home to rich veins of silver. The Spaniards quickly had a second flourishing funded by working enslaved indigenes to death. With the advent of the Bourbon Reforms, Spain switched tack and made even more money by importing African slaves to their colonies. The Portuguese did this too, of course. The largest share – over 40pc, were brought to Brazil. When the Americas had enough and threw Spain out, Spain became an impoverished irrelevance unable and unwilling to reform itself in order to remain relevant. Those rare efforts that bore fruit quickly collapsed as most Spaniards were content to be nothing while banging on about their former glory.
Let’s move forward in time. Spain is once again at the end of an era of prosperity and building projects. Once again, Spain is home to innovative architecture, to new roads and ports, to enviable infrastructure including airports and trains. But who has paid for this? Oh yes, that great thicko of post-war Europe, Deutscher Michel and, for now, John Bull. Germany and Britain have had to live with crumbling infrastructure due to funding problems but could always afford to support Spain’s efforts to inflate its collective ego even more. As usual, we’re the eejits and, of course, the descendants of those whose blood and sweat funded Spain’s moment of glory are treated as little better than animals.